Dorn Cox of Tuckaway Farm in Lee, N.H., one of the seven farms in the Great Bay Grain Cooperative, said that the co-op farms about 1,500 acres. Members buy portable equipment to share. They hope to grow up to 400 acres of sunflowers, wheat, oats, triticale and rye, mainly for forage crops and custom-blended feed.
Cox has sold cooking oil but is moving toward “renting” it to restaurants and getting it back for biofuel. Members also make soaps from biofuel byproducts.
The triple bottom line for his farm and the co-op includes economic viability; social satisfaction and wellbeing; and environmental sustainability.
The guiding principles for the four generations on his family farm are;
Have integrated systems with flexibility built in – such as alternative uses of grains.
Sell directly, focusing on local markets, and do not grow commodity crops.
Maintain a healthy, resilient soil through choices of crops, cultivation, and so on.
Maintain an appropriate scale that does not result in excess overhead or cut into the quality of life.
Focus on the profit per acre and number of people supported per acre rather than on the cost per acre.
The downside of these principles is that they are complex and have “a lot of little, moving pieces.”
Cox has grown sunflowers for four years. He has undersown hairy vetch, winter rye and crimson clover into sunflowers, broadcasting seed at the last possible cultivation in the last week of June or first two weeks of July, and experienced less weed pressure the following year. Also regarding cover crops, he has seen much better growth of winter rye planted from seed he saved rather than purchased seed.
Cox is experimenting with the Rodale-designed roller crimper for organic, no-till grain and oilseed planting after a cover crop of vetch and winter rye.
Tuckaway Farm will be part of a field day/demonstration on June 13, which will also include the UNH Thompson School and the UNH Organic Dairy. For details, contact Becky Grube at UNH Extension, 603-862-3203, or Cox at 603-781-6030.
Organic dairy farmer Jeff Bragg of Sidney milks about 140 cows, shipping milk to Organic Valley. He grows corn, primarily, and raised about 90 acres of the crop last year. When he tried small grains, they suffered a lot from winter kill and excess rain. He is growing 10 acres of spelt this year and may plant spring oats as well.
Don Webb of Pittston milked cows until the late ‘80s and then started growing small grains. He now grows 35 to 50 acres of grains and has a milling operation.
Organic dairy farmer Henry Perkins (profiled in the March-May 2009 MOF&G ) got into the grain business to lower his grain costs. Learning to use a combine, with all its levers, was “a daunting experience,” he said. He now has a John Deere combine that can be unplugged with a lever.
Perkins has tried growing oats; triticale (“amazing”); wheat, rye, barley and spelt.
“I hate barley,” he said. “Other people have very good luck with it, but I don’t. Winter barley just doesn’t work up here [in Albion]. I tried spring barley. I still hate barley.” (Kersbergen said that barley needs a droughty soil with limited fertility; Perkins said he planted his on a wet, fertile soil.)
He has planted spelt in November, on a south-sloping field on high ground. “It came very well. I combined it in summer.” He still plants spelt.
Perkins had little luck with spring wheat and moderate success with winter wheat, “but then I got into sunflowers, and I do like sunflowers.”
He noted that “when you get into the grain business, you choose to surround yourself with iron, because you don’t know for sure what machine will work for you in your particular situation.”
He mentioned other alternative crops, saying, “There is a move to market raw milk, but I think you’re probably safer growing marijuana.”
Perkins brought up the problem of heavy dews interfering with harvest. Klaas Martens suggested swathing – cutting the grain when it’s a little green. “When the grain gets almost ripe and starts to dry up, that’s when sunlight hits the ground and weeds suddenly grow. Swathing is a way to stop that weed growth. New York is now recommending swathing buckwheat if possible, giving a yield increase of about 50 percent, because ripe grains don’t fall out of the heads.
Martens also said that in his area in the past, “We could always count on [dry weather to dry grains]. But in the past 10 years, farmers have had to dry grain. Especially for human foods, we need to be prepared to dry them. We have a real opportunity to capture quality by harvesting a little bit earlier and drying” grain.
“There are differences between types of grains regarding how easily they dry, how easily you can handle them when they’re wet,” Martens continued. “Europe has areas that are very wet but they’ve grown grains there for thousands of years.
“Spelt is one of those grains that originated in the mountains of the Alps. Because it has the hull on it, you can harvest it fairly wet and dry it fairly efficiently, because the hull protects the grain. If you put a little bit of air in the [stored] spelt, it’s very easy to keep it from spoiling.” ‘Emmer’ and ‘Einkorn,’ he said, also have hulls that protect them from insects and moisture.
A Growing Community
The final speaker of the day, Jim Amaral, founded Borealis Breads, which makes artisan sourdough breads, in 1993 and started baking with local grains in 1997. “It’s helped me make much better breads than I did 10 years ago, and most of all, I’ve developed some great friendships with farmers in Maine.”
Until the recent resurgence of grain mills in Maine, the last of the local flour mills shut down in the 1920s. “Today there is a fabulous community of farmers interested in growing grains for dairy herds and human consumption, and we’re not going to have those generations when that information is totally lost and we have to struggle to regain it. The community of farmers, millers and bakers are all sitting down at the same table.”
Amaral said that we may see breads made with varietal wheats that grow best in a particular location and produce a particular flavor.
The challenges are to ensure quality (especially regarding mold); to grow the market and the supply in tandem; and to distribute grains through a good network, such as the Crown of Maine.
Supply and demand have generally grown together sufficiently to meet Borealis’ needs. This year the company is opening a new bakery, on Ocean Ave. in Portland, where a wood fired oven from Albie Barden’s Maine Wood Heat company will be used to bake breads and pizza.
Another challenge is maintaining the identity of the farm and farmer through the final product. Borealis has printed “farmer cards” in the past, depicting farmers who grew grain for its bread. “We need to think of new ways to give farms more recognition for the hard work being done to create these really valuable products. We’re never going to beat the national markets on price. Our ace in the hole is locally grown grain.”
MOFGA maintains a list of businesses seeking Maine-grown grains. For more information, please contact Melissa White Pillsbury, [email protected], 568-4142 or see Organic Grain and Seed Sources (48k pdf file).